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Israel Arbeiter, 96, Holocaust survivor who believed ‘there is never enough remembering’

Israel Arbeiter, left, greeted his fellow Holocaust survivor Steve Ross at a theater before the premiere of the film "Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross," in West Newton in 2017.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Israel Arbeiter was 17 in October 1942 when German SS troops, in the middle of the night, assembled all the Jews in the town square of Starachowice, Poland.

Dividing his family in half, the Nazis put Mr. Arbeiter and two of his brothers in a line to become slaves in Nazi work camps, and placed his parents and youngest brother in the line of those to be murdered in the Treblinka death camp.

“The darkest day of my life, and it is still with me,” Mr. Arbeiter told the Globe nearly 70 years later on his 87th birthday while standing in Treblinka during one of his many return trips to sites where the horrors of the Holocaust were inflicted on his family.


After dodging death again and again at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and elsewhere — tortured and beaten until he was unconscious, threatened with being shot to death, fed crumbs during forced labor — Mr. Arbeiter was liberated in 1945 on his 20th birthday.

He spent the rest of his life bearing witness, sharing his family’s story, and advocating for education about the Holocaust. Mr. Arbeiter was 96 when he died Friday in CareOne at Newton.

Over the course of nearly eight decades since Nazis placed him on a path to die, he became an elegant and urgent spokesman for not letting the memory of the Holocaust fade.

“There is never enough remembering,” he would say.

Mr. Arbeiter, who was among the founders of the group that built the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, had served as president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston.

He was honored often, including by German officials who, in 2008, awarded him the Order of Merit for fostering German-Jewish understanding and for his efforts on behalf of Holocaust survivors.


Three weeks before Mr. Arbeiter died, he received the Stephan Ross Excellence in Holocaust Education Award, which is named for his late longtime friend, who also survived Nazi death camps.

Sponsored by the New England Friends of March of the Living, an organization that raises scholarship funds to send youths to Poland and Israel for life-changing experiences, the virtual event honoring Mr. Arbeiter on Oct. 6 drew hundreds of viewers.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston sponsors an annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest for students in grades six to 12, though perhaps no one could be as articulate as he was about one of history’s most murderous chapters.

Mr. Arbeiter testified four times in Germany at trials of Nazi criminals and spoke countless times to students in Greater Boston and in Europe.

“It is never enough,” he said of these efforts during a 2019 Globe interview.

Srulek Arbeiter, as he was known as a boy, was born on April 25, 1925, in Plock, Poland, the middle child among five brothers.

They grew up in a two-room apartment where the kitchen was also his father’s tailor shop. His father, Hersch-Yitzhak Arbeiter, and mother, Hagar Malenka Arbeiter, raised him and his brothers Elek, Motek, Aaron, and Josek.

“We thought we had the good life,” Mr. Arbeiter told the Globe in 2012. As an adult in the United States, he changed his first name to Israel and went by Izzy.


When the family heard about Hitler’s rise to power, Mr. Arbeiter’s father couldn’t believe Germans would go along with the dictator’s plans.

Then Germany annexed Poland in 1939, and Jews were forced to wear yellow stars. The Arbeiters’ oldest son, Elek, left home to head toward the Soviet Union and was never heard from again. In early 1941, SS troops entered Plock, captured and beat all the Jewish families, and took the Arbeiters away to Starachowice.

The October night when his family was separated, three to live and three to die, Mr. Arbeiter was terrified and tried to join his parents. His father pointed him back to the labor camp line.

“He told me, ‘Children, go back over there, and if you survive, remember to carry on with Jewish life and Jewish tradition,’ " Mr. Arbeiter recalled. “And those were the last words I heard from my father before they took him — and everyone in his column — off to Treblinka.”

At his first concentration camp, he contracted typhoid and was housed with 86 other sick prisoners. When Nazis came in at night to kill them, Mr. Arbeiter slipped away and hid in another barracks. Another prisoner, Chanka Balter — “a girl sent down from heaven,” he later called her — worked in the kitchen and stealthily passed along food to nurse him back to health.

They both later ended up at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where each managed to avoid arbitrary executions, and he repaid a debt by sneaking food to her.


In November 1944, he was sent to the Hailfingen-Tailfingen concentration camp. After French troops liberated him on his birthday in 1945, he spotted a motorcycle sitting unused, with a key in the ignition and a full tank of gas. “I borrowed it,” he later recalled.

Teaching himself how to ride on the spot, he headed across Germany to a displaced persons camp where he had heard that Chanka, his one-time savior, was living. They married the following year and she changed her name to Anna in the United States.

The Arbeiters, who celebrated their 75th anniversary in August, were among the oldest Holocaust-survivor couples in the United States, and probably anywhere.

On May 18, 1949, carrying Harriet, their first child, they landed in Boston on an Army transport ship. “Arbeiter family from Poland,” read a caption of a photo of them that the Boston Evening Globe published with an article about the ship’s arrival.

“They arrived here in America literally with nothing but the clothes on their back,” said their son, Jack of Concord.

“When he first came to the United States, his passion was helping survivors. He was a leader of the Holocaust survivor community here in Boston,” Jack said. “As the decades went on and people were settled, his focus shifted to educating people about the Holocaust and ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust were not forgotten.”

With his brother Mack, Mr. Arbeiter ran the Arbeiter Brothers tailor shop in Dorchester. Mr. Arbeiter later bought a dry-cleaning business in Newton, and while living in Newton he continued to sew made-to-order suits.


“He was a master tailor,” Jack said. “A lot of times when people would ask him what his business is, he would say, ‘I’m a CPA — cleaning, pressing, and alterations.’ "

In addition to his wife, Anna, his son, Jack, and his daughter Harriet Fritz of Stoughton, Mr. Arbeiter leaves another daughter, Fran Rotman of Easton; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday in Temple Sinai of Sharon.

“My intention now is happiness, joy at seeing what we have accomplished from nothing,” Mr. Arbeiter told the Globe in 2012. “We defeated Hitler. He is dead. We have a beautiful family.”

He added that “this was my answer to my father. He told me to survive and to carry on the Jewish way of life. And I did.”

And to ensure that succeeding generations would not suffer as he had, or be murdered like those in his family, Mr. Arbeiter spoke for as many years as he could to as many people as possible.

One day in 2012, while visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, he talked to some high school students from Slovakia about his time there as a prisoner. “This was a factory for killing,” he said.

Mr. Arbeiter showed them the number tattooed on his arm — A-18651, his concentration camp identity — and told the youths that they should do whatever possible to prevent such a terrible chapter in history from being written again.

Then Mr. Arbeiter sent them on their way with the optimism that defined him.

“You’re all beautiful. Enjoy your life,” he said. “And go home and tell your parents, your families, what you learned, what you saw here.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at